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Mildred Smith

Activist, woman of faith, loving mother

Mildred “Millie” Moser Smith, a longtime Pilgrim Place resident, died on April 1, 2015. She was 95.

She was born on August 11, 1919 on a farm in Iowa, the fifth of sixth children of Edna and Alex Ross. Her father died of blood poisoning when she was six and her mother eventually rented the farm on shares and moved the family to the town of Oelwein, Iowa. The family’s share of the farm’s produce helped feed them during the Depression.

During her high school years Millie was mentored by Regina “Queen” Ingersoll, one of the first female lawyers in Iowa. This mentorship broadened her horizons and she attended the University of Iowa, relying on scholarships and the financial assistance of her mentor. With a degree in English and a teaching certificate, she taught for two years, then moved to California in 1942 and secured a job at Lockheed Aircraft building the P-38 Fighter plane. At Lockheed she met and married her first husband, Raymond Stanley Moser. They had three children, Susan, Jan and John. After their children were grown, Millie and Ray helped found an intentional living community in Altadena.

Ray died in 1979 and Millie remarried in 1989 to Stanley D. Smith, a resident of Pilgrim Place in Claremont. Syd died in 1994 and Millie lived at Pilgrim Place until her death.

A woman of faith and action, Millie lived a life of service. She was a compassionate and thoughtful advocate for peace, racial equality, women’s rights, ecumenism, fair labor practices and humane immigration laws. She was active in Fair Housing issues in the ‘60s, and held state and national positions in Church Women United. 

She was long on the board of, and served as the national president of, the National Farm Worker Ministry, which supported Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union. During the lettuce boycott and the grape strike, Millie recognized that women controlled which food was purchased for the home, and she would frequently drive carloads of “church ladies” up to Delano to experience for themselves the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers. Her children also remember long stretches when lettuce and grapes did not appear on the Moser dining table!

Millie protested and committed civil disobedience at the nuclear weapons testing facility in Nevada and was also arrested in demonstrations against the forced deportation of Salvadoran refugees during the civil war in El Salvador. She traveled to Cuba and Nicaragua on study-advocacy tours and also traveled to China, Kenya and the Soviet Union.

In Claremont, Millie and Syd were among those who founded the Pomona Valley affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, and she has served as its president. She was also active in the Pomona Valley Peace with Justice Center, Church Women United and the YWCA. Ms. Smith was honored with the YWCA’s Betty Genne Lifetime Achievement Award as one of the Y’s 1995 Women of Achievement. She was also honored in 1994 by the Pomona Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women for her contributions in church and religion. She was a joyful leader/member of Temple City Christian Church, All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena and the Claremont United Church of Christ. 

Millie was a supportive and loving wife and mother. She loved gardening, walking, swimming and taking her grandchildren on adventures. She is survived by daughters Susan Moser (Fred Ezzell) and Jan Wilson (Bill) and son John (Jennifer); eight grandchildren, Sun, Li and Alex Ezzell, Ben Eastman, Elizabeth Wilson-Jackson and Amy Long and Darren and Alicia Moser; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Millie’s memorial service will be held Saturday, April 25 at 3 p.m. in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial contributions be made to Pomona Valley Habitat for Humanity (www.habitatpv.org).

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